Meet the Jewish world champion of Magic: The Gathering

(JTA) — There’s a good chance Nathan Steuer is currently playing or planning to play Magic: The Gathering. The collectible card game, which Steuer used to play with friends at Jewish summer camp, became the 20-year-old Berkeley native’s passion and full-time job.

Steuer — who has done a bar mitzvah in addition to attending the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif. — competes in online tournaments every weekend for about 12 hours each on Saturdays and Sundays. . He spends hours preparing and studying strategy, and also coaches other players in his spare time. He is even currently taking a year off from his studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in order to focus on the game.

The obsession paid off when Steuer won the World Magic Championship on October 30 in Las Vegas, beating 31 other top players from around the world.

“It was honestly surreal, like a dream,” Steuer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview this week.

He seems very measured and reserved on the phone, and he thinks calmness helps his game.

“When you’re playing against such high-level players in a world championship setting, a lot of your benefits in terms of trying to win a bigger amount comes from keeping a really weighted approach to every game, and basically making sure you to not let the nerves get to you,” Steuer explained.

For the uninitiated, in “Magic,” as it’s colloquially known, each player takes on the role of a “Planeswalker,” a wizard who can traverse dimensions to battle others in turn-based battles at the using spells. The game, which hit the market in 1993, often draws comparisons to its predecessor Dungeons & Dragons, and can now be played both online and with physical cards. He was played by tens of millions of people around the world.

Nathan Steuer child

Steuer, then 12 years old, playing Magic: The Gathering. (Courtesy of Steuer)

After the onset of the pandemic, gaming largely moved online, especially for serious gamers. There’s a whole Pro Tour of players competing in highly competitive international tournaments.

The World Championship comes with a big prize of $100,000 – but as a Magic purist, Steuer is even more excited about the other part of the prize money: the opportunity to design his own Magic card with artwork. fantastic of itself which will be published in future decks.

“The prize money is great. But having this opportunity is really fantastic,” he said.

Steuer grew up attending the synagogue weekly for Shabbat services and religious school, an experience he remembers fondly.

“I really enjoyed doing this with my family, and having this experience was very meaningful, probably from when I was four years old through my bar mitzvah days,” he said.

But even though he played Magic at the Jewish Camp, Steuer said he hasn’t felt much overlap lately in those two aspects of his life.

It’s possible make a living as a Magic player: According to official magic website, approximately 150 players have amassed at least $100,000 in career earnings, with the top player earning $1 million. Steuer doesn’t know what his future holds, but for now he’s focused on his favorite game.

“I decided to make the transition and see where this career could take me because it had probably been my biggest passion growing up, I never quit,” Steuer said. “And so, once I saw the opportunity, I decided to take it and make it happen.”

Going forward, Steuer said he will work to defend his world title at next year’s championship. He is also interested in the hidden aspects of the game which he loves, such as map design.

“Winning gave me the feeling that I have a lot of things I can conquer outside of Magic if I put my mind to something, and I think it gave me a firm idea that I can find my own path. to success, be it Magic or another pursuit.

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